How lighting can create a bright, clean, no-nonsense hospital environment

Different spaces have very different priorities, which need to be carefully balanced. Graeme Shaw, Technical Application Manager at Zumtobel Group discusses how good quality healthcare lighting can support patients’ wellbeing and help them recover from treatment more quickly and meet the needs of the medical staff.

The bright, clean, no-nonsense environment of a hospital supports the meticulous work going on – and lighting is a major part of this. Providing clear, high quality light for medical work is only half the challenge for lighting in healthcare settings and making sure light has a positive effect on the wellbeing of patients and staff is vital. Lighting plays an important role in the realisation of healthcare and the effect of treatment, rehabilitation of patients and relationship between doctors and patients, hospital operation management and cost control.

Nowhere is it more important to have the right light than in a medical environment, where diagnosis and treatment require the highest possible precision. That requires clear, powerful, accurate light with a recommended colour rendering index (CRI) of >90and glare and flicker prevented. At the same time, light plays a key role in keeping patients comfortable and well and play a part in helping them recover as quickly as possible. It’s a tricky set of priorities to balance, especially when we add the requirements for lighting to be energy efficient, easy to maintain, and easy to clean to help prevent infections spreading.

For example, angles of view must be carefully considered when designing lighting. Imagine lying on a hospital bed, facing the ceiling, being pushed down a corridor. Lights glaring in your face will make this experience much less comfortable. Careful positioning of luminaires, and selection of products with the right light distribution properties, will help. In spaces designed for rest, recuperation and relaxation, light can provide a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere, with a gentler distribution and a warmer colour temperature.

People love daylight – it feels bright, natural and healthy. This usually comes with a view out of a window, so we associate it with a connection to nature and the outside world. Studies have shown that patients in beds closer to windows and have view out tend to leave hospital sooner. Patients with conditions like dementia, will benefit particularly from natural light that helps keep their body clock in check.

Daylight should be incorporated into lighting designs wherever possible, complemented by artificial light. Controls can be used to dim or turn off artificial lights when they’re not needed. However, it’s not always possible to use daylight, so artificial light can also be made patient-friendly. In clinical areas, light may feel harsh because it needs to be very bright and clear. In areas where patients are recuperating, lighting should be soft and diffuse to flatter people’s appearance and colours should feel natural. When people see others around them, or themselves in a mirror, they want to see people who look healthy and well.

The colour temperature of light – how “warm” or “cool” it appears – also makes a difference. A neutral 4000K will be preferable in many clinical areas, but in areas where patients need to relax, a warmer 3000K may be more appropriate. Of course, different patients have different preferences and needs. For instance, as we get older, we tend to prefer higher levels of light. Giving patients’ control of light helps to accommodate their needs.

Quality LED light sources use surprisingly little electricity, keeping costs and carbon emissions down. Lighting controls based on ambient light levels and room occupancy will help to get energy usage down even further. Timers, light sensors and occupancy sensors can help make sure lights are only on when they’re needed. Luminaires can be controlled individually or as groups, and wireless control can make installation and operation easier. Well-designed lighting controls can cut energy costs while also making spaces more flexible and suitable for specialised activities. If lights fail or require maintenance in a healthcare environment, important work may be disrupted and the use of lighting controls can also help to extend the lifetime of products and make it easier to prevent and manage faults.

When balancing the need for healthcare spaces to be clinical yet comfortable, it’s not always a case of one or the other. Some areas in a healthcare building will host a variety of tasks and activities, so lighting needs to be flexible. Well-designed controls can also make spaces more comfortable for patients and, of course, can help get energy consumption and carbon emissions down by making the most of daylight, or keeping lights off when no one is around. An investment of time and effort in selecting the right lighting products and designing a thoughtful lighting scheme will reap benefits by making sure that a hospital environment is always as practical as possible for patients and staff.

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